Double Feature: Dude (2018) & Every Day (2018)

Dude (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Olivia Milch

Cast: Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Brooke Smith, Jerry MacKinnon, Satya Bhabha

A group of teenage girlfriends deal with their impending graduation from high school. – IMDB

Dealing with high school seems like a central focus of coming of age stories as the next step in life triggers change and insecurities. Dude focuses strongly on its group of four girl friends as they face loss right before their final year. As they each have their own worries, they all individually make their own decisions even if it isn’t always in agreement with their group. Between getting ready for graduation, getting high together and planning out their next step for college, their last 2 weeks before graduation is one filled with both comedic and dramatic moments.

Girl friends stories are always quite endearing to watch. These four friends each have their own unique personality. Two of the girls are specifically focused with Lucy Hale’s Lily and Kathryn Prescott’s Chloe who share the same loss at the beginning which makes each of them cope in their different ways. The film does a good job at building their friendship where they go to events/parties/school together but gradually all have their own experiences which change each of them, giving them their individuality as well. Lily has her encounters which takes her aback while Chloe chooses to pivot her plans to be closer to home. All these things highlighting the process of moving on to the stage and accepting change and separation. In comparison, Alexandra Shipp’s Amelia and Awkwafina’s Rebecca both have rather one goal oriented, giving them a much simpler role but still they add some fun scenes.

Overall, Dude is a fairly basic coming of age teen comedy/drama. The issues they face are fairly relevant and believable and the characters are decent. If anything, the characters do make the film rather enjoyable. Plus, you even get to enjoy a verse or two from Awkwafina rapping. The writers remember that the film is about teenagers so there is a good balance between drama and fun.

Every Day (2018)

Director: Michael Sucsy

Cast: Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Debby Ryan, Jeni Ross, Owen Teague, Lucas Jade Zumann, Katie Douglas, Jacob Batalon, Sean Jones, Nicole Law, Maria Bello

A shy teenager falls for a spirit who wakes up in the body of a different person every morning. – IMDB

Adapted from the young adult novel of the same name by David Levithan, Every Day stands out from its unique premise where a person “A” migrates through different bodies everyday of the same age. Despite this, they still find a girl Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) who is willing to love them for who they are, putting aside gender and appearances. The story itself feels relevant to today more than anything and tells a story about acceptance and love.

Every Day builds on this premise. The film’s focus in love and acceptance is due to this person’s personality or soul and their connection. Another side of this premise highlights all the different person exist within one community from homeschoolers to extremely religious student. While the story itself seems a little ahead of times for teenagers especially talking about romance in connections and such, the message here is pretty good. The whole body migrating mostly remain a mystery as they never quite figure out what it is however, there seems to be some control as they soon discover which also brings up the question of how unfair it is to take over someone’s life and make them lose out. The whole mystery of the situation also does lead to some unclear moments where A embodies the person but still manages to have their skills. Something that isn’t explored quite enough perhaps but then this is a teen romance drama and not some sci-fi or fantasy film.

The film itself works pretty well as the young cast delivers some good performances. The main constant being the female lead played by Angourie Rice as she faces this person and starts to accept him. Angourie Rice does a great job with the role at hand especially when faced with this odd person who morphs everyday. The conflict, the acceptance, the heartache is all well developed and portrayed by her. The cast which A migrates includes a handful of characters which have more screen time with Justice Smith, Owen Teague, and Lucas Jade Zumann. To be fair, the film itself does a decent job but while I haven’t read the source material, the premise itself has a lot to do with the intrigue. The execution is fairly well where credit is due but there are still parts that feel a tad disjointed.

Double Feature: 6 Years (2015) & All The Bright Places (2020)

6 Years (2015)

Director (and writer): Hannah Fidell

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Molly McMichael, Alysia Lucas

A young couple, bound by a seemingly ideal love, begin to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. – IMDB

6 Years is a familiar story about young romance. One that talks about about a lengthy young romance that’s been around for years with plans of their future that suddenly get shifted when their future plans take on the unexpected changes because of new opportunities. Do they continue or do they end it? That is the main question these movies take its audience on.

Front and center for this film is Mel and Dan who start the film off in a hot and heavy sex scene. Its a unique way to start it as it does show off their intimacy together. However, the film actually sets them apart a lot of the times to interact with their new circle of friends or their work environment as they start stepping into the young adult path into their new career paths. Mel’s friends are still about getting drunk and immature about their decisions, giving a glimpse of the younger age and the people she hangs out with that also makes for some bad decision-making. However, Dan is different. He feels more settled and grounded and just waiting for his turn to grow in his career and making the connections he needs by associating with work friends. As the film puts them in their own social environment and not so much involved in each other’s social environment, the insecurity also sets in, especially for Mel who starts to react both emotionally and aggressively. The film doesn’t take it too far but the hints of the changes in the essence of their relationship is there.

With that said, the film is mostly about these two characters played by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Each doing a rather decent job at handling their roles respectively as they spiral away. Perhaps, some of the issues is mostly with the script as some of the dialogue feels rather annoying, no matter the scenario of Mel with her friends or Dan with his friends in the social environment. No one in this film other than them seems to believe that a 6 year relationship at their age would work and with all that negative force, its hard to not have some doubt planted in it. But then, when you think deeper, this also does bring up the issues that have been hidden from the comfort of having each other in their lives.

6 Years is a pretty basic film and whether you connect to the story itself and the content will probably determine how much you enjoy it in the end. These characters have their certain level of depths. The film does lack a little progress in general and makes some strong scenes to instigate those changes. However, the dialogue sometimes does get a little grating and annoying in parts. It does feel rather real and raw in some cases where the doubt does feel reasonable because their plans were made with stability and belief that there won’t be any change to their current situation, which also shows their naivety to real life. That is what brings these character to life and what makes this film an interesting one in terms of the material but lacks a little in the execution of the material to make it completely engaging with the whole situation.

All The Bright Places (2020)

Director: Brett Haley

Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O’Hara, Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner, Felix Mallard, Sofia Hasmik, Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Wilson, Chris Grace

The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something. – IMDB

*Published in Friday Film Club HERE*

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven (review) who also co-writes the adapted screenplay, All The Bright Places tells the story of two teenagers, Violet and Finch who are both living unhappily for their own reasons. Violet is living with survivor guilt after her sister’s death which gives her a fear of cars and limits her to things that she finds are safe. Finch is a little more obscure as he is having consulting sessions at school with the counselor after an incident and is considered a freak by other students. When they work together on a project to wander the town, Finch takes Violet to a lot of adventures that slowly pulls her out of her sadness but slowly he retreats into his own darkness and struggles to get out from it. 

While its been a few years since I’ve read the novel itself, the adaptation does have some differences from the novel but does keep it in the important parts to make it the story effective. One of the key elements of the story is between the two main characters Violet and Finch and in turn their portrayal by the two main leads, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. These two young actor and actress do capture their roles really well especially since they each have their own struggles. Justice Smith having the more obscure and complex one which never truly gets addressed as to what he has but his struggles from past to present is constantly shown in little details on screen. However, the film is only about these moments but rather it spends much of the time with Finch helping Violet find her happiness and smile again to break free of her own guilt and in turn, their adventures while rather insignificant at the beginning, each has their own meaning.

All The Bright Places has a very strong source material to begin with and a rather surprising ending when Finch gets a much more dramatic turn of events in its set up in comparison to the film. However, the film does capture the essence of the story in general which focuses on the neglect, ignorance, unknowns as well as struggles with mental illness in general and how Finch’s character is trapped in something he doesn’t quite understand but no one seems to notice that he needs the help either.

All The Bright Places might look like a teen romance that can just be brushed over but while there is some romance between Finch and Violet, the story is much more meaningful and has a lot of depth for what its trying to portray. Plus, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith does deliver some solid performances to capture these two teens very well from start to finish to truly feel their mental transition in both Violet and Finch right down to a very touching speech with Violet recapping the lessons she learned from the whole experience with Finch.

Holiday Marathon: A Castle For Christmas (2021)

A Castle For Christmas (2021)

Director: Mary Lambert

Cast: Brooke Shields, Cary Elwes, Lee Ross, Andi Osho, Tiny Gray, Eilidh Loan, Stephen Oswald, Vanessa Grasse, Desiree Burch

To escape a scandal, a bestselling author journeys to Scotland, where she falls in love with a castle – and faces off with the grumpy duke who owns it. – IMDB

Looking at A Castle For Christmas, I couldn’t help but ask two questions. The first is when was the last time I saw Brooke Shields and the second, when was the last time Cary Elwes was in a romantic comedy? Was it The Princess Bride? On top of that, this film is directed by Mary Lambert who has directed plenty of horror films but not so much romance (as I take a quick look over her filmography and yet, she is at the helm of this film.

Set in the small town Scotland setting and mostly in a castle, A Castle For Christmas is really not all that bad. The cast helps a lot and the whole tone is pretty nice. The plot points do have some odd moments that feel like it edited out a scene or two that was supposed to link it all together. The romance at times is a little bit on the cringey side of things but the setting is really nice for Christmas as it brings these two characters together. The holiday element is also done pretty well also as they transform the castle into a more festive setting and giving it a little more life.

The cast is really the highlight here. Whether we look at the main leads or the supporting cast, they all add a lot of charm to this small town and breathe more life into the film as a whole. The little discussions as they knit or decorate together. It makes the famous author on the run feel accepted when this group understands her point more than the others in the big city. There is a very positive feel-good vibe from those moments alone. It somehow puts the romance element in the background. However, thats not saying that Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields in their respective leading roles should be ignored. Brooke Shields fits into this role nicely whereas Cary Elwes feels at times a little awkward. However, his character is set as a bit of a loner so where he shines is before the whole romantic bits start with their little feud as he tries to get her to leave and she works hard to fit in and stay.

Overall, A Castle For Christmas is an alright holiday romantic comedy. Its cast does it the most favors and makes it a fun feel good film. The romance gets lost a little in the whole setting and the holiday and the supporting cast from the small town and yet, that does do the film a lot of favors as the romance element isn’t its strongest but Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes does fit relativelt well in their individual roles.

Double Feature: A California Christmas (2020) & A California Christmas: City Lights (2021)

A California Christmas (2020)

Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino

Cast: Lauren Swickard, Josh Swickard, Ali Afshar, David Del Rio, Katelyn Epperly, Amanda Detmer, Natalia Mann, Gunnar Anderson, Julie Lancaster

With his carefree lifestyle on the line, a wealthy charmer poses as a ranch hand to get a hardworking farmer to sell her family’s land before Christmas. – IMDB

Being from a place where a white Christmas is usually how it goes, these snowless holiday films sometimes do feel a little strange as it focuses more on the actual romance than the holiday but I suppose that’s how it goes with these sort of Netflix-style “Hallmark” films. A California Christmas is really rather basic. In fact, everything is very simple and predictable whether its the characters to the whole plot itself. It doesn’t carry a whole lot of depth. In these cases, its saving grace will be the chemistry and its setting which the whole small-town farmland has its little fun moments while the chemistry does work seeing as the two leads are actually married in real life which definitely helps things and makes it feel rather natural.

What saves this movie a little bit is that the rich spoiled brat male lead comes to this town to try to pretend to be someone else and use that as a manipulative plot to get them to sell as per his company and his mother the CEO’s request, with that plot comes the blending together and a somewhat fish out of water story as he learns how to do all these farm tasks, posing as a farm hand called Manny who ends up trading up that life for a rather relaxing one with his assistant, Leo. Where the film did have its most fun was the ridiculous and rather comedic moments between Leo and Manny as their friendship grew throughout. Of course, the romance wasn’t all too bad either considering they pulled in a family angle that tugged a little on the heartstrings.

A California Christmas is really everything that you’d expect from this type of holiday romance. Its acceptable for those who enjoy these films but nothing too special for anyone looking for something more.

A California Christmas: City Lights (2021)

Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino

Cast: Lauren Swickard, Josh Swickard, Ali Afshar, David Del Rio, Natalia Mann, Raquel Dominguez, Laura James, Noah James, Julie Lancaster

Follows Callie and Joseph one year after they fell in love, now running a dairy farm and winery, but their romance is threatened when business and family obligations call Joseph back to the city. – IMDB

The sequel of last year’s A California Christmas moves the farmland setting to the city lights of San Francisco as Joseph is summoned back to the city to take care of the company as his mother runs off and passes the duties over to him. Faced with the upcoming nuptials and fitting into the city as well as the different person that Joseph seems to be in the city as well as a lot of revelations about his past life there, Callie starts to have her own doubts.

A California Christmas: City Lights is a step down from the first film. While the first was predictable, this sequel actually feels a lot more unnecessary. Some things in the script feel like a stretch and there is this very odd tone especially with some very cheesy and over the top moments, specifically one where its probably meant to be humorous but didn’t quite hit that way with Manny’s character as he tries to capture the attention of Callie’s best friend Brandy. Its a rather empty sort of pursuit as the connection goes from nothing to something in a very short amount of time. The family element also gets traded out as Callie and Joseph is away in another city but still trying to get those moments in.

The focus is still on Callie and Joseph, the main couple here who is caught up in this new location and new responsibilities respectively. Between the plots of the ex-girlfriend and this whole other side of Joseph comes to light for Callie, it creates these moments of tension as the city undoubtedly tears them apart literally, making it hard to find time to spend together. This plotline actually is one that I’m not a huge fan of in general. Call it a romance film issue that is used so frequently with just secrets and lack of communication which is usually the source all the problems. While its inevitable that it needs to be used to create conflict, it also feels like for the frequent viewer of such films, it such a simple solution whether its talking things through or just commuting to see each other to sort things out whether than each sulking in their own corners.

Sure, I didn’t have high expectations for A California Christmas: City Lights since the first movie was a rather average sort of viewing experience. This film however took some very odd and silly plot points that just felt like while the backdrop of San Francisco has some really nice cityscape, and the world they shift to is rather glamorous, the film in general is dull. It actually took quite a few sittings to get through it. Some of the issues once resolved were pretty decent but the script and the execution was just not too balanced.

Holidays Marathon: The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (2021)

The Princess Switch 3: Romancing The Star (2021)

Director: Mike Rohl

Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Remy Hii, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar, Amanda Donohue, Florence Hall, Ricky Norwood, Suanne Braun, Mark Fleischmann, Will Kemp

When a priceless relic is stolen, Queen Margaret and Princess Stacy enlist the help of Margaret’s cousin Fiona teams with a man from her past to retrieve it, with romance and resulting in a very unexpected switch. – IMDB

After two The Princess Switch movies, its really hard to think about what other roles they could switch at this point. Of course, last time’s introduction of the royal cousin comes into play as she amends her bad ways by helping them leading the story to focus on her this time around and her little story about why she is the way she is. To be fair, you have to love Vanessa Hudgens a lot to watch these films since she takes up 3 entire roles on her own. The only thing missing is if they cross worlds again and bring in her role from The Knight Before Christmas as another role for her. Now that film is majorly lacking a sequel although as a form of sequel for this film series might not be exactly what I am waiting for.

The Princess Switch 3 : Romancing The Star is actually not too bad. If anything, its along the same enjoyment level as the second film. Some things feel ridiculous especially in plot when the switch is now a last resort situation so seeing the imitation of imitation for Vanessa Hudgens actually is rather comedic especially when the other versions mock each other. Fiona is a huge change since that character wears over the top outfits and has a big personality, making both Margaret and Stacy pretending to be her also full of craziness. The films as they progressed do somehow out of their own craziness has their own logic and it seems logical that it starts off from a basic switch between two people and now its more about the other schemes and giving each of these Vanessa Hudgens’ their own sort of story as well. The romance and whatnot is not anything unique in all honesty but there is a feel good element even if this one hits some cringe-y moments.

With that said, the star of the show is Vanessa Hudgens and she does take each of these roles and runs with it. It sure is fun to see her really showing a lot of different sides of the people that she plays. It gets a little odd sometimes but at this point of the third movie, its not hard to accept a lot of it no matter as Stacy, Margaret or Fiona. Of course, this time’s focus is a lot more on Fiona and Margaret as they do the big switch and its great to see Margaret pretending to be Fiona even when we all know that its just the same person acting everything, normally or pretending. Its really hard to explain but somehow those moments still are the best in the film. The love arc is also a focus here as they usually are and this time its for Fiona as she embraces a childhood friend and a quick fling which of course meant more than she is ready to admit with Peter, played by Remy Hii (also in Crazy Rich Asians). Their moments are a little bit cringe-y as they have this very in-your-face type of chemistry with the long stares and paused moments close to each other. It tries really hard but I’m not exactly sure the chemistry is there although Remy Hii is a pretty charming guy and fairly suitable to be in the role.

Overall, The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star is alright. Its nothing to call home about in terms of a sequel but there are some fun bits. Since I do enjoy Vanessa Hudgens, seeing her everywhere in this film doing all these different personalities and pretending to be another version of someone adds a lot of humor and fun. There are some awkward moments and the romance is not exactly my fave of the three films but it has that whole heist and reverse heist stealthy element that does give it a different sort of angle which somehow works to a certain extent.

TV Binge: Blown Away: Christmas (Season 1, 2021)

Blown Away: Christmas (Season 1, 2021)

Host: Bobby Berk & Katherine Gray

Five fan-favorite glass blowers return to the hot shop to compete in a series of Christmas-themed challenges; the winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize, plus an additional $10,000 will be donated to his or her charity of choice. – IMDB

Let’s just put it out there right now that I never watched any of the Blown Away seasons before this one (at the point where I’m writing this post, but probably will later). I also know nothing about glass blowing. The extent of my knowledge is the one time I went to Seattle and saw it being done at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. With that said, I am really happy with the variety of competition shows that Netflix produces since it shows off a lot of the different arts out there and giving it a platform for others to know more about the artists just quietly working on their craft in their corner.

Blown Away: Christmas is four episodes long and brings back five of the fan-favorites from the past 2 seasons as they compete in different Christmas-themed challenges. The variety is pretty good as well as the whole narrative. The episodes run fairly short as well at about 20-ish minutes. Its very swift to say the least as they run through some of their processes on what they are making and introducing some of the techniques that they are using as they dive into their different meanings towards Christmas whether its memorable presents to the big finale creating their own version of winter wonderland. The artists are all very diverse in their artistic style which always adds to these types of shows. Plus, all the artists are all really interesting people as they share their own traditions.

The show itself is hosted by Bobby Berk who admits right away that he knows nothing about glass blowing but from the Queer Eye show he is very familiar with home decor so his expertise comes into play for the artistic elements of the piece. Plus, he adds in the little pun-y jokes in his narration as well as a fun personality as he hosts with resident judge, Katherine Gray, who is there to offer her expertise in glass-blowing and knows these artists from the previous seasons. The dynamic between the two is pretty good.

Overall, Blown Away: Christmas is pretty fun. Its a great introduction to the show itself and has left me wanting to check out the normal seasons, like the previous 2 seasons. The pieces are truly beautiful and very creative. The whole show is pretty feel good to watch even if it is a competition.

Holidays Marathon: Love Hard (2021)

Love Hard (2021)

Director: Hernan Jimenez

Cast: Nina Dobrev, Jimmy O. Yang, Darren Barnet, James Saito, Rebecca Staab, Harry Shum Jr., Althea Kaye, Mikaela Hoover, Matty Finochio, Heather McMahan

An LA girl, unlucky in love, falls for an East Coast guy on a dating app and decides to surprise him for the holidays, only to discover that she’s been catfished. This lighthearted romantic comedy chronicles her attempt to reel in love. – IMDB

As Netflix steps up its game a little, its kind of a mixed bag when it comes to holiday films. Love Hard was one that caught my eye immediately for 2 reasons. The first being Nina Dobrev that I’ve been following since The Vampire Diaries which is a show that I did love (not so sure about how much I love it now but maybe it’ll be a fun experiment to see how I feel about it now that I’m in my 30s). The second reason being Jimmy O. Yang who seems to be popping up on my radar a lot and I do like his humor quite a bit. While I didn’t expect him to be casted in a romantic comedy, it is nice to see him in it especially when Love Hard is pretty cute when it brings the whole modernized dating scene up front for people looking for love online and the many dangers that could happen as well as the concept of what perfect love is while also making a play on two movies I do like a lot: Love Actually and Die Hard.

Love Hard is a pretty fun romantic comedy. Its not exactly unpredictable as most rom-coms nowadays tend to be lacking on that front. However, with the small town vibe and bringing in the family element in terms of expectations and love on all fronts, Love Hard is pretty well-crafted. It has its heartwarming moments and also some silly ones as well but the chemistry between Nina Dobrev’s Natalie and Jimmy O. Yang’s Josh is pretty decent. They have some really meaningful conversations about romance and encouragement towards being themselves but also uses its comedic comebacks especially for Jimmy O. Yang’s character pretty well also. The whole cast is pretty cool with Harry Shum Jr. playing the attention seeking brother but also getting to flex those singing skills, that I personally haven’t heard since his Glee days. Much like the whole family dynamic of the Lin household, plus all these family holiday films needs a wild grandma and they had one here as well.

Is Love Hard something really out of the ordinary? The plot itself definitely isn’t. It has some of the “How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days” plot where in this case is a blogger with her column on failed online dating but also adds that different ethnic backgrounds angle as they play with some of the Asian backgrounds even if the family feels pretty much assimilated to the small-town US lifestyle. A lot of the Asian household values whether its family business or following dreams or family expectations all come into play here which does feel rather realistic. If there was one thing that I’d nitpick on this was that the film spent a lot of time on Natalie’s angle, probably for most of the film and then suddenly near the end, it switches over to Josh’s angle in the final act which felt a little odd to do since Natalie felt like the character to connect with throughout and then suddenly, the switch with that one scene with Josh near the end felt a little misplaced. Its still a good scene and adds to his character.

Overall, its a harmless holiday romantic comedy. It has a lot of Christmas elements. There’s a good balance between comedy and romance. It also has some fun Christmas moments from putting up the Christmas tree to family moments to Christmas caroling, etc. It does tick a good few of those boxes for what this film sells itself as which all works together in a fun way. Of course, for people who don’t really enjoy romantic comedies, probably not for you but if you like Jimmy O. Yang’s comedy style and romantic comedies are acceptable to you, its a worth a watch.

Found (2021)

Found (2021)

Director: Amanda Lipitz

The story of three American teenage girls-each adopted from China-who discover they are blood-related cousins on 23andMe. Their online meeting inspires the young women to confront the burning questions they have about their lost history. – IMDB

Found is a 2021 Netflix documentary which talks about three Chinese girls that were adopted to US to different families in different states but finds they are blood-related cousins through an ancestry DNA test by 23andMe and through their various conversations decides to reach out to a Chinese genealogist to look for their roots from their orphanage to where they were left and potentially seek their parents to get some answers as they get ready for their trip to China together to get to their own family history more.

Found is a really great topic to explore. As China recently approved their three child policy in 2021, the one child policy may feel like a good while ago but cannot be forgotten as many children were given up during this time due to the hefty penalties for having more than one child. This lead to a lot of families giving up their children leaving them in bustling areas in front of government buildings or streets creating stories like the ones of these three girls. The documentary does a great focus on how detailed the genealogy research is especially the in-depth research and even the emotional burdens as they follow her to meet various potential matches.

The first part plays a lot around the researches and communications from the genealogy while the second part follows the girls as they go through this China trip that leads them to meet the ladies who took care of them at their adoption centers or the places that they were left while also exploring the country itself. Breaking it down, the first part gives a lot of back story primarily as the genealogist follows the different leads and talks to the different potential match. At the same time, being a girl born in China, she also shares some of the mentality behind the gender of a child in the society in certain family structures. At the same time, her research and results also contrast with the mixed emotions behind the adopted girls as they discuss their feelings towards this whole situation.

The documentary plays on a few elements and shows the genealogy and how it is rather hard to find matches especially in face of strong laws that perhaps stop parents from wanting to find the children that they have given up but it does focus on both of sides of the story. While it doesn’t specifically reference the details of the one child policy, the different conversations also sheds some light on the people most affected by this law to its penalty. Its a rather thorough documentary and these three young girls also learn quite a bit from following their roots and doing their trip together and get some kind of closure, the whole situation feels both touching and amazing and perhaps a nice story for others to decide whether they want to try to seek out their own roots and explore their place of origin, whether or not finding their parents is really up to chance.

Genuine human emotions, heartwarming and a decent look at these three adoption stories as well as the genealogy portion of searching for answers and root all culminate together in this documentary. Its well-made and hits the points fairly well. While it doesn’t dive very deep into the one child policy, it still gives enough information to share these girls’ journey and perhaps, the results aren’t so important as the very fact that their one decision brought them each other and gave each other the courage to go get in touch with their roots by simply going back to their homeland and seeing the little bits of what was found.

Red Notice (2021)

Red Notice (2021)

Director (and writer): Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Ritu Arya, Chris Diamantopoulos

An Interpol agent tracks the world’s most wanted art thief. – IMDB

Directed and written from Rawson Marshall Thurber and the third collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, Red Notice is simply a popcorn flick. Its nothing too novel from the heist film and cops chasing bad guys and the bickering between the unlikely duo. Its an action comedy packed with some decent star power that probably makes it more attractive than the film actually is. Perhaps it is knowing that this director collaborated on previous films like Skyscraper (review) and Central Intelligence (review) before, that its not hard to feel very similar to those films for Red Notice. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed their previous collaborations very much as they each had their own dangers and dynamic between the main leads. It might not be anything deep but it does fulfill what it intends: some mindless fast-paced entertainment.

The story and execution of Red Notice is nothing too different or surprising overall. The film does move through different cities swiftly from their starting location in Italy and finally ending up in the tropical South America and they make a good few stops in between. The whole thing is a mix of a heist and treasure hunt film but also adds in a decent amount of action whether melee or weaponry. All of which are constructed fairly well. The whole film plot feels like its nothing too special but the ending was decent when it all comes together. While it never feels like there’s any crazy danger around the corner, it keeps the whole process fairly all light-hearted and fluffy but the whole story is glued together by its main cast.

There is really no doubt that when you look at the main casting roles that the dynamic and banter between the characters will be the highlight of the film. Dwayne Johnson always has that very fun one-liner goofy tough guy sort of role which has this toughness but also has this entertaining element. Much like after Ryan Reynolds did Deadpool where his ability to toss out those funny lines has crafted a lot of this roles now making this one as a world class thief also have a fun appeal especially when he pairs up with Dwayne Johnson as a cop-thief duo who has the same goal of chasing after The Bishop for their own reasons. They bond together throughout. Their encounters with The Bishop, played by Gal Gadot also adds a lot of sassy dynamic as Gal Gadot doesn’t only have the beauty but also has this really entertaining element to her character as she seems to always be ahead of them and setting them up in impossible situations. The three mesh together really well in all their banter and encounters throughout.

Overall, Red Notice isn’t really anything too special but its also is a decent entertainment. Of course, I’d really only recommend it to people who don’t mind a normal flick. At this point, its easy to know what type of films Dwayne Johnson makes and his other collaborations with this director and the enjoyment of those films might be a good hint whether you’d enjoy this one as well. For myself, I did have fun with those two so this one was suitably entertaining.

TV Binge: Midnight Mass (2021)

Midnight Mass (2021)

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Igby Rigney, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Rahul Abburi, Hamish Linklater, Henry Thomas, Michael Trucco, Matt Biedel, Crystal Balint

An isolated island community experiences miraculous events – and frightening omens – after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest. – IMDB

The third Netflix limited series of Mike Flanagan takes a completely different direction. Midnight Mass is bigger than the haunted house set-up but instead tackles an isolated island community and the uprise in religious faith after their new priest is able to create a miracle. This review will be mostly spoiler-free so some things will be much more general. If you’ve watched it, you might what I am addressing.

Diving religion and belief is a pretty ambitious direction to take especially since it also is a rather touchy subject for the most part. It brings up a lot of different viewpoints of religion in community which in a small little island setting does show the diversity of how many people treat religion on a daily basis as well as the extremities of beliefs and perhaps the dependency on it when faith creates miracles. There’s quite a few themes here but in reality the most important element being how these characters are crafted from their experiences and the relationships that grow whether on a family, romantic and friendship. The setting itself gives it a closed off and isolated environment but also manages to create a lot of diversity. When you bring in a stranger, the unknown and mysterious parts of this stranger become a spotlight and brings on the curiosity especially when they are more charismatic than dangerous. Much like someone returning to the island with their own background also has a sense of a new character where they try to re-establish themselves.

Where Flanagan’s shows are most successful is how the story crafts its characters. It makes human nature be the biggest force in what creates the creepy elements sometimes even more than the horror and sinister elements themselves. That’s not saying that Flanagan doesn’t create some genuine startling moments which does bring on a lot of questions especially with their unknown “monster’ that is rumored from their deserted off island where the youths go to hang out in the beginning to its appearances showing up across town. It brings back memories of Absentia when Flanagan creates a character with so little revealed that it creates so much suspense and mystery that brings along the horror. Of course, that’s been while ago and Midnight Mass has much more budget where it can create something a little different in what is actually going on. Although, in terms of execution, it does feel like the big reveal was done a little too early which makes what happens after feel like it drags a little bit longer than it needs to therefore losing the effects. its not to say that its not a shocking ending or that the end result does leave space to contemplate about some of its messages.

That being said, its hard to not talk about the characters here which are pretty well-casted overall. Starting off from Zach Gilford as Riley who returns from his four year prison sentence after killing a woman in an recent accident that causes him to be haunted by the scene over and over again every night. He returns to having to readjust both to the small town and their judgments as well as getting back to good terms with his family so that they can accept him while also facing his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Kate Siegel) who he soon finds out has returned back to the island pregnant but has followed her mother’s footsteps as a schoolteacher. Their reunited friendship keeps both of them comfortable as Erin helps Riley find somewhere that he belongs and isn’t judged but also understands the hurdles of coming back while they respectively have changed in their faith in opposite directions as Riley has lost his religion and faith where Erin has found it upon her return. These two characters are no doubt the center of the entire plot. Much like the island’s new sheriff, Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) also have a pretty strong role as their difference in appearance and religion create their own hurdles of how certain members of the island creates barriers of how they don’t understand how the island operates, sticking to their own ways. This leads to the church portion which brings on a very well-portrayed in the most frustrating sort of character who sits at an extreme of the religious spectrum in her absolute faith and belief, Miss Keane who is one of those very strong type of characters that carries the sharpest words, narrow-minded and is overall a pretty extreme type of person who acts like she is doing good when she is actually a pretty mean person as she manipulates others using her influence. Which leads to the new member of the Church, the young priest Father Hill who temporarily replace their elderly priest who is both charismatic and wise with his views and plays the mystery stranger role which has quite a shocking reveal.

Midnight Mass is full of well-developed characters which each contribute so much to the plot itself. There’s a lot to love about this mini series. In some ways, it dances around the sensitive topic of religion and faith when it is taken to its extremities and how it turn into something that can be freely interpreted using the Bible with any situation to manipulate situation when its believed to be good but it isn’t. As the character dynamics change with the constantly changing situation, this island and community becomes so intriguing to watch. Even if the ending seems a little wild, it does manage to keep its audience contemplating about the deeper messages portrayed here whether its about loss, grief, belief, faith, religion, etc.